Motion Capture doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. It gets used in practically every summer blockbuster, and has been pivotal in creating costumes for the heroes of the MCU for over a decade. However there was a time when this technology was relatively new and its limits were being tested. Most people know of one of its earliest applications, creating the creature Gollum for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but few remember some of the following applications. The Polar Express was released in 2004 and was filmed entirely in Motion Capture, before being animated by computer, even being recognised as the first all digital motion capture film by Guinness Book of World Records. The film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, chose this method of production as it allowed for a grand scale on a small budget and would do the best job of representing the original storybook’s illustrations. These same decisions would lead Zemeckis’ to apply this same method of production to an adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol.
Released in 2009, Disney’s A Christmas Carol follows the money-grabbing Ebeneezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in an attempt to change his selfish ways before it is too late. Disney is no stranger to A Christmas Carol, having adapted it with Mickey Mouse in 1983 and The Muppets in 1992. The former of these is probably the best 26 minute summary you could ever hope for, with the latter being a personal favourite that has already been subject of a review. However, this take is unique in that it is probably the darkest adaption of the tale there is, which may have something to do with how accurate it is to the original novel. There are plot elements here that I had completely forgotten about, because I have not read the book in around a decade (but have watched The Muppet Christmas Carol every year since I was a child), Ebeneezer’s sister Fran makes an appearance, as well as two gaunt children clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present called Ignorance and Want. It’s much more of a tragedy than I remember it being, and it is nice to be reminded. A Christmas Carol is about a man who needs to be subjected to his deepest regrets and fears in order to change the course of his life.
I think it’s important to remember that when the original novel was published in 1843, ghostly apparitions were not viewed as a lighthearted subject of discussion. Today we are inundated with ghoulish tales from Scooby Doo to Ghostbusters to Casper, so seeing this take, especially in a children’s movie, is relatively refreshing. The colour palette matches the overall tone of the movie in that it is dark and dingy, but when it needs to be bright and cheery, it has no problems doing so. A perfect example of this, and often something that best exemplifies their respective iterations, is how the Ghost of Christmas Present is presented. Here, he sits upon a mountain of food and is only about twice the size of Scrooge whilst the walls are adorned with golden garlands in a room that has tripled in height. As the scene progresses, the room in which they sit seems to hover over the city, allowing them to see the goings on of the townsfolk, and the Ghost of Christmas Present grows older until he has become grey. By the scene’s end, the Ghost has become hostile towards Scrooge, and as they stand in a seemingly endless room, he unleashes the disturbing Ignorance and Want before literally turning to dust whilst laughing manically, in a moment that’s flat-out uncomfortable. It’s tense, getting more so as the film races towards its conclusion. That’s not to say this tension hasn’t been present since the beginning, we are often left in complete silence as if to signify how lonely Scrooge is, but when there is music it is often a joyful and triumphant arrangement of a Christmas carol. The score was composed by the excellent Alan Silvestri, who previously conducted the score for both The Polar Express, and the Back to the Future trilogy. It seems that if your film demands triumph, it demands Alan Silvestri.
So what of this grand scale that Zemeckis spoke of? As previously mentioned, there are the scenes featuring the Ghost of Christmas Present, but there is also the grimy city of London. There are several times that we find ourselves flying over the rooftops, and even from the ground, the buildings look as big and grand as they have ever been up close. This is amplified during the chase sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t feel like it should be here, but ends up being thrilling anyway. Both ghosts, along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, are voice by Jim Carrey, who also voices Scrooge, in a decision that potentially adds more depth to the tale. The ghosts have often been viewed as an extension of Scrooge’s thoughts, but with this choice they seem to become direct extensions of him. Carrey playing multiple voice roles was a focal point of the advertising, but if you didn’t know that (or forgot like me) you may not recognise that they’re all him. Of course, the rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman, and the late Bob Hopskins, are terrific, but there is a reason that Carrey got his name prioritised in the advertising.
The observant among you may notice that I have failed to talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past, but there is a reason for that. His design creeps me out… and… his Irish accents baffles me. I actually think that Dickens wrote a description that is extremely difficult to pull off. I mean, how would you design a being that is both old and young at the same time? As for the Irish accent, it continues to baffle me.
Until Next Time…